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February 24, 2014 | by  | in News |
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Steven Takes University for Another Joyce Ride

The Government is looking to take more control over universities, by reducing the size of university councils and removing requirements for student and staff representation.

University councils are the governing bodies of institutions which are made up of representatives from a variety of stakeholders. Currently, the Victoria University Council has 18 members, two of whom are student representatives.

Under the announcement made by Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce, the Council would shrink to 12, and the current requirement for staff and student representation would be axed. There would be a new requirement for Māori representation on councils.

However, the reduction in size will not extend to ministerial appointees, who will now take up a greater proportion of council seats. Under the reforms, four of the 12 members of Victoria’s University Council would be appointed by the Minister.

The changes are part of an Education Amendment Bill which will be introduced to Parliament soon, and would come into effect at the beginning of 2016.

The reforms have been widely criticised by universities and students’ associations across the country, as well as NZUSA, the TEU, Academic Freedom Aotearoa and the Labour Party. Labour’s Tertiary Education Spokesperson Grant Robertson said there was no problem with university governance and no call for such changes to be made.

“[The Government] are simply about silencing the voice of students and staff who have been vocal critics of National’s cuts to tertiary education,” Robertson said.

Victoria’s Chancellor, Ian McKinnon, declined to comment at this stage. Victoria’s Council’s submission to the Minister for Tertiary Education proposed a corresponding reduction in ministerial appointments to three. The Chancellor has said he would support the retention of student representation on Council.

Joyce has said that the reforms “will modernise councils so they can more easily meet the needs of a rapidly changing employment market and… operate more efficiently.”

VUWSA President Sonya Clark said that the changes would be harmful to student representation, and she will be advocating for two students to remain on Council.

“The independence of universities will be compromised when their councils can easily change depending on the Minister,” she said.

Clark also disagreed that University Council was too slow at decision-making.

“University decision-making processes can be slow at times, but it’s got nothing to do with the University Council, but the consultation processes that must occur before proposals get to the University Council.  Universities are diverse, complex places with broad goals with a whole community to consult. Good consultation takes time.”

In December, the University Council voted to give VUWSA back one of the student seats. Salient will have more on this next week.

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